Get Into the Sandbox, Think and Play and Let’s Inspire… Adaptability


Us cops often times get stuck in the procedural processes in getting things done. As long as we followed these processes, tactics, techniques right the outcomes don’t seem to matter. After all we did what we were supposed to do according to policy. How many of us cops have known they could have used, another alternative (you know an IDEA) based on experience but shied away from it because it was not the prescribed way? Now tactics, techniques and process, policy and procedures are good to have but they are only skin deep and work best when things go exactly as we planned. But when things change (as they often do) and adaptation is required we must balance these tactics, techniques and processes, policy and procedures with ideas that make sense depending on the given situation and based on the officer (s) on the scene experience. To really be effective you need to go beyond playing “follow the leader” and instead take on the explorer role and experiment as you interact in adaptive and dynamic encounter. This takes what’s skin deep and makes it bone deep and the makes the difference in a cop who knows things and one who can actually apply his knowledge to real life situations.

Broaden Your Horizons and Add Value to Your Team

If you want to broaden your horizons as to choices and tactical options you have you must change your habits and routines that may be putting you in danger. Your daily habits and routines on duty are more powerful and have more of an effect on how you perform than any formal training class you have attended. What…How’s that? Training classes are important are they not? Yes they are important but it’s more important that you apply the lessons from those trainings on the street. Knowing something is one thing. Being able to apply what you know to a given situation is quite another. A difference that could mean life and death!


An example of this I often use in training is the well know concept of DEADLY HANDS or watching deadly hands. Every cops knows this and my experience has been that every cop when asked the question “when your interacting with a person on the street and want to assure it is safe to approach what is the most important thing to visually clear? The overwhelming response will be DEADLY HANDS. Every cop knows this and will pass any written exam on the topic. However put those same cops on the street or force on force training environment and the vast majority of cops (66% according to Force Science Research) do not check DEADLY HANDS. What do they check while interacting with others you might ask? The eyes!!! Because like all people we have been programmed to look people in the eye, since the time we were born. “Look at me when I am talking to you!” “Why won’t you look me in the eye when we are having dinner together?” “Look in my eyes it’s not polite to not make eye contact! “ Our every day life beliefs, routines and habits are embedded and to change them takes hard work. But with hard work and persistence the good news is that we can develop an adaptable mind that takes into consideration the situation and choose tactical options that fit the situation.

Fresh Situation, Fresh Eyes, Fresh Perspective! Equal Fresh Ways of Doing Things!

If you want to help yourself break the habitual way you think and develop more sound leadership skills or develop more innovative tactics and make better decisions you need to look at things with fresh eyes which in turn will develop fresh thoughts and fresh ideas. Fresh ideas are important and really are rooted in something that already is in existence. Innovation in a lot of cases is just adapting and idea you have, to something already in existence. It’s important to keep in mind that this process of seeking fresh eyes or different viewpoints on how we normally operate creates conflict. There are those who won’t understand or value your vision and even those who will try to slow you down or even stop you. The question is how do you withstand or even embrace these inevitable conflicts as a path to more effective tactics, techniques, processes, policy and procedures? We must learn to open our minds and eyes to what we do not normally see. We do this through diversity of opinion and positions and the natural tension that arises in any group or team or department looking for new ideas in an effort to improve.

When it comes to developing innovative ideas and adaptability in policing, I use conversation, debates and discourse with cops, the public and other people I respect from other disciplines. I also read a lot about our law enforcement history, decision making, leadership and innovation. I also try to make learning fun! Yes Fun!!!  To make it fun and inspire others to participate I use tools like card decks as discussion starters which help bridge the gap to new ideas, be it in planning by identifying the problem first, the current state and its root causes that leads to identifying the target conditions or the outcomes we seek and the courses of action that will make us more effective and safe.

My experience is that tools like this work and work well. And law enforcement should utilize them in our efforts to continually learn and improve our planning, preparation and response.

Tools to encourage constant creative ideas

I watch my 7 month old grandson play and his curiosity level, is at an unbelievable level. He watches and listens to everything. Anything that moves anything he hears his head turns and at times snaps toward the subject of his curiosity. This youngster explores things deeply in his effort to learn. His toy chest is an adventure and the clutter of things in that toy chest works to open his mind to all the possibilities. Take his blocks for example; He can pick them up, look at them, feel them and learn their shapes, chew them, and use the toys to knock his grandfather off the head (damn that hurts). He can take them out of the container, throw them, or place them back in the container. He can do it himself or SCREAM for Pops help. And during all this he is continually learning. Learning what’s safe and what’s not safe to do. What’s most effective? What’s most efficient? What belongs where and what does not? And the learning continues. What if we as adult learners, you know us cops had this same child like curiosity about our jobs, our leadership styles and our tactics? How much more effective would we be?

Explorer Mindset Cards

Tom Peters says; to play (design that is) you need a sandbox and a toy chest. Clutter up your workspace with toys and materials that will inspire you and encourage constant creative learning. All of our programs of instruction and workshops are based on experiential learning and they are scenario based. Tactical decision games (pen and paper exercises to force on force free play) and after action reviews play a critical role in the learning that takes place. In designing these programs we have to shake up the apple cart and try new ideas and so must policing if we are to deal with the evolving threat climate as well as the already existing unpredictable nature of human conflict. Developing a flexible mind and understanding what you don’t see is just as important as what you do see. This ability comes from not knowing when to leave well enough alone and always wanting to go back to the drawing board over and over again with a bold passion to try new things with a focus of effort to continually improve themselves and others.

Tools to help put fresh eyes on situations:

Tom Peters call his, Design and Beauty Cards. The deck is made up of 61 cards that represent an element of design and beauty (Tom's  words) that you can use to "de-commoditize" your project to distinguish it from others, to add life and verve wherever and whenever you are inventing and executing. The card deck is a tool for anyone, individuals or teams looking to continuously improve. I have been using Tom's card deck for about 10 years now.

Michael Michalko calls his deck of cards "Thinkpak" which is a brainstorming tool, something to break you from old habit by looking and thinking about things differently in an effort to improve. Michael says everything new is really just an addition to or modification of something that already exists. Whenever you want to create a new idea, product, service, process, breakthrough, or whatever you need, Thinkpak will help you take your subject and change it into something else. The deck utilizes the nine principles ways of manipulating a subject:

  • Substitute something.
  • Combine it with something else.
  • Adapt something to it.
  • Modify or magnify it.
  • Put it to some other use.
  • Eliminate something.
  • Reverse or rearrange it.

You can use these card decks individually or in groups of people working together. I prefer to work in groups because you get so many more useful viewpoints. Combine this with discussions and debate and you begin to design simple ideas to adapt to better methods and tactics

For example: we cops have note pads (EXISTING IDEA) we utilize for writing down information we gather during our tours of duty and they have seemed to work fine for decades so it seems. However one of my passions is to develop cops who actually are trained observers so its important to actually make observations as you interact with people in order to stay safe. If your face is in a notebook and your writing don the information, begs the question are you really observing anything of importance? Or the better question is how much during this human interaction are we missing? This got me to thinking how do we do this more effectively so that cops are actually participating in the observation process and with initiative doing something about their own safety while at the same time gathering all the information needed to meet a successful outcome?

New idea: combining something new with something old: Use 3 X 5 Index Cards carried in uniform shirt pocket and have the subject write their own information down. This way the officer involved can actually observe the behavior of the subject as he writes down his own personal information or his own statement. The officer can watch body language the facial expressions and gestures that show whether or not an individual may be cooperating or potentially being deceptive. Or is he friend or foe? I got away from the notebook because most of the cops I talked to were reluctant to hand somebody their notebook for a host of different reasons one big one being other information from other cases that could be compromised and believe it or not reason number 2 was they just did not like anyone else touch their notebooks. The 3 X 5 cards remedied this.

Since talking about this 3 X 5 Index Cards in programs of instruction I teach I have received numerous phone calls from veteran cops who now love the idea because they do indeed make better observations that keeps them safe and just two weeks ago an officer told me that he had a subject lie to him on the card! That is right he lied to him about his name he wrote his name as John crossed out John and then wrote Fred Doe, in an effort to deceive the officer because he had an outstanding warrant. The officer said he actually saw the individual begin to write the name, then stop and cross out the name right there in front of him. The told me when he got the card back and saw that it was the name he crossed out. He looked at the subject and said are you kidding me! You are going to try and lie to me about who you are in writing cross it out and hand it back to me and I am suppose to buy that? The subject he said hung his head and shrugged his shoulders halfheartedly and said; that was pretty stupid wasn't it, and then gave up his real name.

The whole purpose of this post was to give you a few ideas on how to observe with fresh eyes how we do our jobs. It was also to get you to re-imagine with heightened insight how you do things on the street. Ask yourself is the way I have always done it the best way? In some cases it may be and in many others it may not. It is important in our improvement efforts to really open our eyes and further our education and learning so that when we’re face to face with an adversary or some other crisis we can look at everything that surrounds us and know how to apply what we see, hear, and feel to position our self where we cannot lose. Get into he sandbox and don’t be afraid to play!

Stay Oriented!


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